National Nurses United

Registered Nurse June 2009

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 18 of 19

Profile.alt:1 7/23/09 3:10 PM Page 19 I t was the late 1990s and Debbie Cuaresma, a critical secretary treasurer of her region, and then eventually president. In care unit RN at Saint Vincent Medical Center in Los Ange- 2007, when a spot opened up on the board, she ran and was elected to les, was fed up. Over the last decade, conditions at her hos- the CNA/NNOC board of directors. She believes the challenge ahead for registered nurses and for pital had steadily gone downhill with the advent of hospital restructuring. Managers floated RNs "all over the members of CNA/NNOC is to win a single-payer healthcare financing system in the country. "This is very, very essential to all Ameriplace" and the hospital kept cutting the nurses' benefits. "We didn't have a say so," remembered Cuaresma. cans and all people," said Cuaresma. "We see our patients are very sick when they come in. Had they had some kind of insurance, they "It was no questions asked." So when she met some CNA/NNOC organizers at a could have gone to the doctor and averted this kind of illness." And with the economic downturn, Cuaresma added that it is still a continuing education class and decided to help convince her coworkers to sign unionization cards, Cuaresma was simply trying to fight for what constant struggle to maintain and improve working conditions. "At least was fair and safe for registered nurses at her hospital. Little did the RN we have the tools to have a voice," she said. "The contract protects us. Especially now, with the recession, I ask my know that her leadership in organizing Saint Vincoworkers, 'Could you imagine if we did not have cent in Los Angeles in 1999 would serve as the first "Before the union, you domino in a long chain of victories that would lead don't dare say anything. a union?' The union shows us the way to challenge the administration. That's very empowerto widespread unionization of nurses in Southern Otherwise, you'll get ing." California—a critical step in CNA/NNOC's develpicked on as one of the She takes her role as a representative on the opment into the organization it is today. Before troublemakers." CNA/NNOC board very seriously. Cuaresma is Saint Vincent unionized, it had been about 10 years since a Los Angeles-area hospital had done so. The only other unionized constantly updating and educating her coworkers and colleagues in the hospitals in Southern California were Kaiser Permanente and City region about the direction of the organization, and encouraging them to get involved. "My job as a board member is to try and implement the of Hope. "I had no experience with unions," said Cuaresma, "but I liked the things that need to be done," she said. Overall, she is proud of the contributions she has made in her idea of changing things at work. I just wanted to have some kind of a change that will protect us. [The hospital] didn't think we could do it. almost 30 years of nursing. Two of her three children are now considThey kind of underestimated us. From that point on, other hospitals ering becoming RNs. "I'm happy with where I'm at," she said. ■ wanted to be like us!" Other RN leaders question whether CNA/NNOC would have been Lucia Hwang is editor of Registered Nurse. as successful as quickly in organizing Southern California hospitals if it were not for Cuaresma's involvement. She was not only respected at her hospital and known at others, because many RNs picked up shifts at multiple facilities, but also plugged into an extensive Filipino nurse network. "Debbie played a huge role in organizing not only at Saint Vincent, but all the other hospitals in the area because of all the nurses that she knew in the community," said Allen Fitzpatrick, a fellow RN Name: Debbie Cuaresma, RN board member and a leader in the Catholic Healthcare West system. Facility: Saint Vincent Medical Center Cuaresma continues to work as a CCU RN at Saint Vincent and Unit: Critical care unit has been a member of the CNA/NNOC board of directors since 2007. Nursing for: 29 years She immigrated to the United States from the Philippines at age 15, On CNA/NNOC board since: 2007 growing up in the San Bernardino Valley, California. She said that Sign: Aries though her parents had not attended college or even high school, Nursing pet peeve: When coworkers they always encouraged her and her siblings to get an education. She come to me with concerns but then "always had the dream of becoming a nurse," inspired by a cousin she wimp out and won't stand by their looked up to who was an RN. She studied and graduated in nursing in issue when you try to help them. 1979 from East Los Angeles College, then quickly accepted a position Favorite work snack: Cashew nuts at Saint Vincent. Cuaresma worked in geriatrics for a couple of years, Recent work accomplishment: Molding a new crop of then studied critical care and moved to the CCU in 1981. RN activists to help negotiate the contract and carry on After helping organize Saint Vincent, Cuaresma next worked on the work bargaining its contract. The RNs were able to make dramatic improveColor of favorite scrubs: Pink ments to floating by clustering units within which RNs could safely Hobbies: Shopping for uniforms move, make compensation more equitable by creating step increases, Favorite book: Master of the Game, by Sidney Sheldon and have a voice in practice issues through the professional practice Favorite performers: Celine Dion and Lionel Richie committee. "Before the union, you don't dare say anything," said Secret talent: Sewing (she used to sew her own scrubs) Cuaresma. "Otherwise, you'll get picked on as one of the troublemakers." and cooking Filippino food. Cuaresma naturally grew more active in her region and with CNA/NNOC. She began attending regional meetings, became the Profile JUNE 2009 W W W. C A L N U R S E S . O R G REGISTERED NURSE 19

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of National Nurses United - Registered Nurse June 2009